When I first wrote this at the time, this was the current process for international adoption for China. Rules quickly change. In fact, they were changing as we were going through the process. So please, use this as a loose guideline to help you see how is could roughly go, and don't use this as anything more than how my process went as each one varies individually.
Our adoption agency is CCAI. They've been fabulous! We are so happy to have them. Their services have been fantastic. They answer all my questions within 24 hours. Always sound like their smiling and having the best day. And layout the adoption process step by step, so their are no surprises. In the beginning Josh the co-founder and president called us open to any questions. Then a few weeks after we were home with our daughter, he called again, just to check in on us. For the oldest and largest in China adoption, to have that small town feel of caring and personal touch went a long way.
Our social worker agency is Children's Bureau. We've really enjoyed them. They helped make the home studies relaxing. They also were quick with all the paperwork and followed CCAI's instructions to the letter. They've also been great with the post-adoption placement appointments. We have been very happy with them.
Here is a summary of our adoption process. Courtesy of (read: blatantly ripped off from) Mara at The Maas Family blog and Katie at Green-Land to China blog.
Homestudy — We have four visits with a social worker who somehow determines if we are fit to be parents. We provide her with all sorts of supplementary documents like letters of recommendation, birth certificates, marriage certificates, pet records, physicals on every member of the household, every financial document we have, proof of health insurance, child abuse and neglect clearance from every state we’ve ever lived in and on and on and on. We have to be fingerprinted for clearance from the State Police and FBI. All of this information is compiled into a long document that is the approved by USCIS and then sent off with our I-800A application and dossier.
I-800A/ I-797 Approval — This is our application to the federal government asking permission to adopt internationally in general. Once the application along with our home study, birth and marriage certificates and appropriate fees have been received, we will be sent a notice with a date to be fingerprinted for another FBI clearance. Once those are done, we should receive our notice of approval (called, for whatever reason, the I-797) within a couple of weeks. That will be the last piece of paper needed to complete our dossier.
Approval granted 4/19/2012
Dossier — This is the giant stack of papers that gets sent to China for the government officials to review. In addition to a copy of our home study and our I-800A approval, it contains a wide variety of documents, all of which have to be notarized, then certified by the secretary of state in the appropriate state (we have 3) and then authenticated by the corresponding Chinese consulate (again 3). By the time we have our I-800A approval, we should have accumulated all the other documents needed. So once that last piece of paper is notarized, certified and authenticated, we will send our dossier to our agency, who will then send it off to Beijing.
Dossier sent to agency 7/21/12
Dossier to China
(DTC) — This is when the agency has triple checked the documents, and ask for anything else they found missing that perhaps got forgotten or misunderstood. Once it's perfect, they submit it to China to get logged in.
Log in (LID) — Within 3 weeks or so of our dossier’s arrival in China, it will be logged in, and what I like to call "paper pregnant".
Referral — Once our paperwork is logged in, we wait for a call from our agency saying that they have matched us with a child. We will have a short description and several photos. However, we can't share with anyone this news until preliminary approval.
Letter of intent (LOI) — After reviewing whatever medical information is available, we send a letter requesting to adopt that particular child and outlining how we plan to take care of her and any medical needs she has. And now the hard part of the wait begins (as if you didn't think it was hard before... this is the killer). This child has a face. This child needs a family, a full belly and a warm bed. All we can do is hope things move quickly so we can bring her home.
Preliminary approval (PA) — I’m not sure why this is referred to as an approval. It just signifies that the officials in China have our paperwork and will review it. PA usually comes within a week or two of submitting LOI.
Pre-Approval granted 12/31/2012
Out of translation (OOT) — When your dossier is translated in China... making LOA possible (maybe in 2-4 weeks).
Dossier out of translation 1/4/2013
Letter of approval (LOA) — This is potentially the most important of all the paperwork steps. This is China’s okay to adopt our child. It usually takes anywhere from 1-3 months after PA for this letter to arrive.
Letter of approval given 1/23/2013
I-800 — And now more paperwork on the American side. This is our application to adopt our specific child. We need our LOA to file this application. Processing times fluctuate, but it’s usually 3-4 weeks.
I-800 Provisional Approval granted 2/12/2013
NVC letter — Once our I-800 is approved, our information has to be sent to the American consulate in Guangzhou, China. When we receive notice (the NVC letter) that this has happened, we can send in our paperwork for the next step.
NVC letter received 2/20/2013
Article 5 – It usually takes 2 weeks on the button once our agency sends the necessary paperwork to Guangzhou for the consulate to issue our Article 5. We never see the thing, but my understanding is that it’s just a piece of paper that says our paperwork is in order and we are adoption-ready on the American side of things.
Article 5 picked up 3/7/2013
Travel approval (TA) — Once our agency delivers our Article 5 to Beijing, the good folks there can issue our travel approval. This usually take 2-3 weeks.
TA granted 3/22/2013
Consulate appointment — When our agency receives travel approval, they request an appointment at the US consulate in Guangzhou. This date, towards the end of our stay in China, determines the rest of our travel dates.
Consulate appointment scheduled 3/25/2013 (scheduled for 4/17/13)
GOTCHA DAY — After reading all that mess above, it’s sometimes hard to believe anyone ever gets to this point. Adoption really is a miracle!
Gotcha Day 4/8/13